New wireless services could be on the horizon

As the 2GHz spectrum auction gathers renewed steam, a range of new wireless services should soon be on tap.

As the 2GHz spectrum auction gathers renewed steam, a range of new wireless services should soon be on tap.

The spectrum, ranging from 1.7GHz up to 2.3GHz, is divided up into lots of varying size — from 8MHz up to 15MHz.The auction itself is divided loosely into two halves — the so-called 2G or second-generation spectrum and its cousin, the 3G spectrum. Currently in New Zealand we use 2G networks for our cellular connectivity — both Vodafone with its GSM network and Telecom with its D-AMPS offer roughly the same functionality.

Third-generation spectrum would allow more advanced capabilities, including high-speed data connectivity, which should see something of a revolution in services. Videophones, for instance, could step out of the realm of science fiction into the real world, though that's been promised for at least 30 years.

The 2G lots are arranged in pairs. Current cellular technology requires two frequencies per call — one for outgoing traffic and one for incoming. That doesn’t necessarily mean future use of the spectrum will require both slots. Ihug’s existing high-speed Ultra service already functions this way, using a dial-up path for uploading data while downloads are transmitted via satellite. A service offering fixed to multi-point broadcast, for example, might also only need one half of the pair.

The spectrum lots are shown on the auction Web site (auction.med.govt.nz) in blocks — the two halves of each pair are in different blocks. Lot one, for example, is paired with lot 11, two with 12 and so on. Buying adjacent lots (lot one and lot two, along with their other halves, for example) means the service provider has a wider band of spectrum to work with, which may or may not be useful in the future.

The lots labelled “1098 plan” refer to a “fixed service band plan” — BCL, the nation’s broadcasting backbone provider, operates a fixed service along these lines. 1098 lots are also paired: lot 30 with 41, 31 with 42 and so on. That leaves one lot left over — a small block of spectrum that has no natural pair.

The 3G end of the spectrum, lots 20 to 26 and their pairs, lots 33 to 39, are called IMT2000 and are also sold in pairs. Bidders are allowed to buy up to 15MHz each in the 3G auction to avoid having one provider dominating the future market. One pair of 3G lots is being held over until after the auction has finished — these are to be sold to the Maori Council at a percentage of the average price for the other three 3G lots as part of the government’s “bridging the gaps” policy.

Three of the lots on auction are labelled TDD and can both transmit and receive on the one frequency. TDD is also third-generation spectrum; however it’s less developed than IMT2000, which might help explain why only one lot has been bid on so far. TDD is useful for asymmetric data traffic, but the lots are only 5MHz in size.

Why they're bidding

- 2G sought by new cellular service providers

- 3G to allow faster data services and always-on links

- Bidders need to buy paired spectrum blocks for two-way services

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